The ups and downs of minor league baseball in Pauls Valley
Earning a name
PAULS VALLEY, Okla. (KTEN) — Pauls Valley was the smallest city of all Sooner State League teams and earned a spot in the SSL in December of 1947.
Before they took the field, the squad needed a name.
While the McAlester Rockets tapped into a local industry to get theirs, the Pauls Valley team took a different route — a "name the team" contest.
One day, Larry Spence left school puzzled by a kid riding a brand new bike.
“He told everybody he won it by submitting the name ‘Raiders,’” he said.
I asked, “Did you believe him?”
“Well I don’t know how else he could’ve gotten a bicycle, because his dad was the only town drunk that Paoli had,” Spence answered.
He mentioned to me that he wasn’t certain that story was what really happened. But at the end of our interview, he got confirmation of that story.
I was handed photocopies of a story about the team and on that very first page was the exact story he told me.
The Raiders played as an independent club for a few years before reaching an agreement with the New York Giants.
That deal lasted two seasons before Pauls Valley shook hands with the Cleveland Indians organization.
Vying for a championship
Pauls Valley joined the Sooner State League early and the Raiders’ first year was nothing for the history books.
But in their second year, they flipped the script and, under a new manager, finished as the league’s best with 88 wins — just one win above the Lawton Giants. The Raiders beat the fourth-seeded Ada Herefords in the first round, but lost 4 games to 1 to that Lawton team.
A tough 1950 season was followed by a 90-win 1951 campaign that would have been impressive if three other teams hadn’t placed higher.
The Raiders faced the top-seeded Ardmore Indians team, who swept Pauls Valley out of the playoffs.
In 1952, when the Raiders struck their deal with the New York Giants, they got new threads. Their cursive, blue ‘Raiders’ script across the chest turned into block letters in the Giants' style with orange and black colors.
Along with a fresh jersey, the Raiders also got some minor league players in the Giants' organization.
The new bunch helped them out in the 1952 season where they had their next —and final — shot at a championship.
They posted an 80-59 record which earned them the second spot in the league.
Things looked good for Pauls Valley following their 3-1 defeat of the Chickasha Chiefs. But waiting for them in the championship was the New York Yankees' affiliate (and equivalent for the SSL) McAlester Rockets.
The Raiders stunned the Rockets with a 3-0 series lead, but they lost four games in a row to drop the seven-game series. The McAlester team earned their third consecutive championship.
Despite their success, the Raiders were in the red for that season — losing $4,000.
That year was the last one Pauls Valley would get a whiff of a title as they finished below .500 the last two years of existence.
The Pearson Boys
Local brothers Lonnie, A.B. and Lloyd Pearson all played for the Raiders. According to records, the only time at least two Pearsons were on the same roster was when A.B. and Lonnie played in 1949.
Lloyd, though, saw the most success with baseball, playing in the minor leagues from 1946 to 1954.
“All three of them were in the war, all three of them came back safe,” nephew Danny Linville said.
“[Lonnie] Pearson Jr. was in the Anzio Beach invasion in Italy and then Lloyd and A.B. Pearson were both in the Battle of the Bulge,” Butch Linville said.
Baseball played a huge part in the Linville family.
“All my family was baseball. My son, he’s a baseball coach. Everybody loves baseball and they used to go and watch them play all they could,” Danny Linville said. “I remember them working with my son as he was growing up a little bit.”
The Pearson boys were town legends. And some of the things they did on the field made them larger than life.
Gail Holder hung the numbers on the scoreboard whenever a team touched home. He said he got pretty familiar with the brothers.
“I knew A.B. and Lonnie well. A.B., the one incident I remember about him, he got fooled by a changeup,” Holder said. “So [on the next pitch], he dropped down on one knee and hit a home run one-handed.”
“Joe [Thomas] told me one time about A.B. how strong he was,” Steve Jarman said. “[Joe] said he check-swinged a pitch one time and the ball hit the bat anyways and it knocked it over the fence.”
It didn’t take long for the city to get behind their new team. Especially Holder’s family.
“We lived baseball at my house. My dad played before the Raiders came and then he became groundskeeper there. My brother was bat boy, my mother sold tickets, and I worked on the scoreboard.”
That hot Oklahoma summer sun can certainly take its toll.
“It was a little bit boring and I would lay down on the walkway — which was two 2x6's — and I guess I went to sleep and fell off the scoreboard.”
The outfielder who helped him back up on the board actually recognized Holder years later.
Holder remembers his time at Raiders games fondly… when he wasn’t getting a snack.
“Of course, being a young boy, I get real hungry, and I would wait till the end of the inning. I know I’d have three outs to run around to the concession and get me a hotdog and a Coke. So I did that quite often.”
Whoever said "home field advantage" doesn’t exist certainly didn’t play against the Pauls Valley Raiders.
“I remember my dad being the groundskeeper, one manager didn’t like to bunt. So he talked to daddy, and daddy sloped the baselines out so all the balls would go foul,” Holder said. “The next year the manager liked to bunt, so daddy had to go back and build it the other way so everything would go fair.”
The Raiders were owned by a few families around town, but one of the biggest names was the Wacker family.
Mona Wacker took over as majority owner in 1951.
“My grandmother, who was a widow by then, took a couple of baseball players in her house," granddaughter Ann Cloutier said. “She had a big house and sometimes they’d come out to visit us at our house.”
Sometimes those players would teach the younger kids how to play baseball. They even tended to Ann’s sister when she took a baseball bat straight to the eye.
The TV game show "What’s My Line" came calling in the 50s, asking Mona to be on the show.
The show featured a panel of celebrities trying to figure out what job the contestant has by asking a series of questions.
The executives wanted that panel to try to find out what job Mona had. A small, Southern Oklahoma woman owning a baseball team would have made for some good guesses, but she declined the offer.
“They thought that would stump them pretty good,” Cloutier said.
Another story passed down through the years is that a player actually got married at home plate on the Pauls Valley field. And as a gift, Ms. Wacker gifted the newlyweds a new washer.
Those in charge of the Raiders had their work cut out for them.
In 1954, they team was $10,000 short and pleaded to folks in the city to help out. Attendance hit an all-time low, as 600 was the biggest crowd they had all year. Their stadium was built to host 2,000.
Despite the love for the team, Cloutier said it came down to one thing: Money.
Following their 1954 season, the team was down $21,000, and at that point, not even a public plea for help from the administration could save the Raiders.
“Mona, my grandmother, tried to keep her going as long as she could, but it just kept losing money,” Cloutier said
The Pauls Valley team and the one in Ada folded before the 1955 season began.
Another notable player
The Raiders had a handful of eventual big-leaguers on their rosters, but perhaps their most notable player outside of the local celebrities was Jennings ‘Jinx" Poindexter.
Poindexter took the backwards route to the Raiders, but was able to play for his hometown team. He was born in Pauls Valley in 1910 and made it to the big leagues in 1936 as a member of the Boston Red Sox.
His last game came just three years later, this time in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.
The lefty played for a few minor league teams before returning home. He assumed the duty of co-manager and would play in 18 games for the Raiders.
Poindexter, 15 years older than the league average, stepped up to the plate 34 times, recording 6 RBIs off 8 hits.
It was by no means a fruitful performance, but it’s not bad for a 37-year-old ballplayer in his last hurrah.
Following baseball, Jinx took a job working for Phillips Oil in Norman, where he worked until retirement.
He died on March 3, 1983 at the age of 72.
Flashes of the past
Wacker Park is still very much around today. In fact, it’s much more than a baseball field. It has a playground, band shell, and tennis courts. And yes, the ball field is still there. Each spring, the Pauls Valley Panthers high school team plays where the Raiders did 70 years ago.
Assistant coach and Assistant Athletic Director Chad Chronister is reminded of his family every time he takes the field.
“The field meant a ton to my grandfather. My grandfather actually built that; he was the contractor that built the field. He loved watching the Raiders.”
He said there’s a lot of history in that ballpark. Some of the owners actually have their names welded into the box seats.
“It’s really cool to connect with that whole lineage of Pauls Valley history that’s connected to that field.”